UNC Health Care

Tips for Staying Fit on the Fairway

Strength training can improve your golf game and keep you safe 

You take your first swing of the day on a breathtaking green, and then it happens  – crippling back pain. Suddenly your day on the golf course turns into an afternoon at the doctor’s office. You’re not alone. Although golf is a low-impact sport, golf injuries affect 15-20 percent of golfers each year.  

While golf injuries are common, strength training can protect you from injury and help you reap rewards on the fairway. 

Building Muscle Helps Your Scorecard

We already know strength training carries a bevy of benefits from helping with weight loss and enhancing athletic performance to staving off depression and lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes.  Golf is no different. 

“The golf swing requires movement from head to toe, and it’s hard to find a part of the body that’s not somehow contributing,” says UNC physical therapist Mike McMorris, PT, DPT.  “There are at least 21 or more muscles that are highly active during that swing. So strengthening those muscles can be really helpful.”

Dr. McMorris says you should find strength training exercises that will strengthen your shoulder, core, back, hip and leg muscles. 

If you want to begin strength training but don’t know how to get started, most gyms have trained staff that can walk you through what you need to do. They can make sure you have the right settings on all the equipment, that you are using the equipment appropriately and are not going to injure yourself, and that you are using the appropriate amount of weight to accomplish your goals. You can even pay for a few personal training sessions and have them build a strength training regimen for you. 

“It doesn’t matter whether you are in a golf-specific strengthening program or a traditional one, just find the one you like better and do it,” Dr. McMorris says. 

Stay Active to Stay On Par

While strength training can help prevent injuries and enhance performance, overuse, poor conditioning and poor form can increase your chances of getting hurt.  

If you don’t play very often and then go on a golf trip and play four days in a row, you are at a higher risk for an overuse injury.  

“High-volume players are also at risk for an overuse injury like tendonitis of the elbow, hand or wrist or injury to the lower back if they’re out hitting balls multiple days a week or playing four to five times a week,” Dr. McMorris says.

In addition to strength training, regular stretching and balance exercises help combat poor conditioning. 

“As we age, the balance exercises become more important because we tend to have more issues with balance resulting from changes in our joints and muscles, as well as sensation, vision and inner ear function,” Dr. McMorris says.  

Also, make sure you have a pre-golf warm-up. Using the first four holes as your warm-up doesn’t count. Some pre-golf exercises Dr. McMorris suggests are:

  • 10 arm circles on each arm. 
  • Gently twist your torso back and forth 10 times.
  • Swing your legs forward and back 10 times.
  • Hit a small bucket of golf balls on the driving range or take 10-20 swings with a short iron.

To get help with poor form, take a lesson and have your instructor evaluate your swing.

When to Seek Help

If you get injured, take a break from golf. Give your body time to rest and heal. If you’re not getting better or your pain is significant, seek medical care or make an appointment to see a physical therapist. Go to the emergency room if you feel like you have a serious or life-threatening injury.


If you’re interested in strength training, contact your local wellness center. If you don’t have one, learn more about REX Wellness Centers and UNC Wellness Centers.

 

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on September 9, 2019.